In 1946 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had dreamed of a dam on the River Narmada. An extensive survey and study by the distinguished engineer Shri Navabali showed that a dam could be built across the river.
On 5 April 1961, the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru performed the Shilanyas, foundation-stone laying ceremony, of the dam. Then for the next 19 years work on the Sardar Sarovar dam was paralysed due to political reasons.
In 1980 work began at a snail's pace with political and financial hiccups. Then a major setback came in 1994. The Narmada Bachav Andolan under Medha Patkar, launched a campaign against the project on environmental and rehabilitation grounds. The Supreme Court in New Delhi granted a stay on the project on these grounds. From 1994 to 1998 the multi-million rupee project remained in the doldrums. On 27 January, 1999, prior to the commencement of the case in the Supreme Court the chairman of Narmada Nigam, Shri Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, sought Pramukh Swami Maharaj's blessings at Bochasan, Gujarat. Swamishri blessed him saying, "The judgement will come in our favour and the Narmada waters will flow to the drought-prone regions."
In May 2000 the hearing concluded and the patient, anxious wait for the judgement began. In June when the Narmada Development minister, Shri Jaynarayan Vyas, met Pramukh Swami Maharaj at Gandhinagar he was in a dejected mood because of the legal wrangles. Swamishri assured him that there will be no delay this time. He blessed Shri Jaynarayan Vyas saying, "This time it will be accomplished - one, two, three and done."
On Wednesday, 18 October 2000, the Supreme Court pronounced judgement for the resumption of the work on the dam to a height of 138 metres as per the tribunal award. The dam at present is at a height of 85 metres. The Supreme Court judgement written by Justice B.N.Kirpal on behalf of the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice A.S. Anand and another member, Justice S.P. Bharucha, said that the construction to the height of 90 metres could be taken up immediately and further construction to 138 metres was subject to clearance from environmental and rehabilitation authorities.
The Supreme Court judgement was welcomed by the people of the state of Gujarat amidst scenes of jubilation. Assemblies were held in honour of the efforts by the Government of Gujarat.
On 22 October, 2000 during an impressive Narmada Support Assembly at the Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Mandir, Shahibaug, Amdavad, Shri Jaynarayan Vyas and Shri Bhupendrasinh Chudasama were felicitated for the memorable victory. During the assembly, Jaynarayan Vyas revealed it was not only their efforts that saw the favourable judgement but the unanimous support of the people of Gujarat and blessings of Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
BAPS Sanstha & Narmada Project
The Narmada project is a lifeline that will provide water to the parched and often water-starved regions of Gujarat, Kutch, Saurashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court of India sanctioning the proposed height for the dam will forever remain a red-letter day for the people of Gujarat. And throughout the four decades of the project's history the people of Gujarat, regardless of caste or creed, have unanimously supported it.
On this occasion His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who has consistently supported the project for the last 15 years, conveyed his congratulations and blessings to all those engaged in this herculean project.
The late Yogiji Maharaj had always prayed for the success of the project and for its waters to reach Kutch and Saurashtra. Whenever he crossed the Narmada, he always paid respects and prayed for the completion of the dam.
On many occasions in the last several years Gujarat has been reeling under severe drought. During these calamitous periods, Pramukh Swami Maharaj had undertaken many relief projects - cattle camps, fodder distribution, buttermilk and alms distribution centers. He had inspired sadhus and volunteers of the Sanstha during the drought years of 1987-88 in setting up and conducting cattle camps and relief distribution centres in Kutch and Saurashtra.
Campaign by Sadhus
Several supportive campaigns by BAPS Sanstha for the Narmada Dam Project have been initiated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. His zeal and compassion were born out of seeing the distress people faced in farming and their day-to-day existence. Having visited more than 15,000 villages of Gujarat Swamishri has a clear picture of the tribulations people face due to water shortage.
In 1990, 25,000 youths of the BAPS had congregated at Vidyanagar for an international youth convention. In his address to the youths Swamishri said, "The building of a dam on the River Narmada is necessary and a great service to the nation. Yogiji Maharaj had blessed this project, therefore, it should be completed. For this the whole of Gujarat is united and each one of us should be vigilant. Let the opponents protest. Let us pray to God to grant them wisdom.... To raise trees is also a service to society. Make an effort for it and strive to resolve the misunderstandings people have about the Narmada project."
While addressing a massive Narmada Support Rally on 7.6.1990 in Mumbai Swamishri said, "We are Indians and Gujaratis. We have never fallen back anywhere and shall never march backwards. And the political parties and organisations of Gujarat and Maharashtra and abroad should with one voice say, 'The Narmada Dam Project will be completed.' The dam height should not be decreased by even one inch. Like the River Ganga, the Narmada is holy and sacred. It is important that such sentiments should always prevail in us all. Let us prove that the proverbial saying, 'Gujaratis are brave at the beginning....' is false and let us show that our bravery shall endure till the end."
Thereafter, Swamishri had sent his group of sadhus and youths to more than 100 villages of Gujarat to inform people about the Narmada project and to answer their queries. The sadhus resol-ved the misunderstandings propagated by antagonists among the tribal population who were to be relocated. Prior to this dam project, the sadhus had also inspired thousands to refrain from smoking, drinking and meat eating. For the last 18 years, the sadhus and youths of the BAPS have remained in personal contact with the oustees in the region of Kevadia and Rajpipala and made countless more aware of the importance of the Narmada project through public assemblies in the districts of Vadodara, Panchmahal and Bharuch.
In response to a debate on the effect of the dam to the environment the Gujarat Government had introduced a 'Forest Rearing Campaign.' Prior to this Swamishri had already launched a massive tree plantation project. He had also initiated the planting of neem, teak and eucalyptus trees on the Sanstha's mandir farmlands. Then through the project, 'Sahajanand Vun,' hundreds of thousands of trees have flourished into sylvan areas. On encouraging the rearing of saplings Swamishri said it was devotion to God (Bhakti). In 1990, 225,000 trees were planted and reared into 'Shriji Narmada Vun' and 'Sahajanand Vun.' Even today the tree-planting programme is an on-going project of the Sanstha.
To support the Narmada project the BAPS has invested Rs.5 million in bonds. Similarly, many thousands of devotees have also invested on Swamishri's directive.
During December 1990, the government had orga-nised peaceful marches in support of the Dam project in Ferkuva. At the government's request Pramukh Swami Maharaj had enjoined hundreds of BAPS sadhus and thousands of devotees in this programme. And to cater food to the participants and visitors a free kitchen was opened at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Atladra from 25 December, 1990 to 3 January, 1991. More than 45,000 food packets were also prepared and distributed. Another kitchen was opened near the site of the peace march. More than 150,000 people had participated in this peace march. At Swamishri's instruction, thousands of devotees from Amdavad, Vadodara, Surat and other major cities of Gujarat had participated in the Ferkuva march.
On 31 December 1990, Baba Amte and his group assembled to oppose the dam project but on seeing the mass crowd supporting the cause in Ferkuva he returned back silently.
During the 35 years since Yogiji Maharaj had wished for the completion of the Narmada Dam project, Pramukh Swami Maharaj has never relaxed in his effort to make it into a reality. Whenever a politician or prominent social worker came to see him, he always told them to expedite the project. And his prayers to Lord Swaminarayan have remained unceasing.
On 21 January 1998, Swamishri visited the Narmada Dam - Sardar Sarovar Project and blessed the massive efforts of all those involved. Swamishri offered pujan to the River Narmada and prayed for its brisk completion without any further obstacles and delay.
On 26 May 2000, Swamishri landed in New Delhi to see and sanctify the newly acquired land for Akshardham. On his way from the airport to the Satsang centre, while passing by the Supreme Court Swamishri had Lord Hari-krishna Maharaj bless the court with His divine eyes and prayed that the judgement be made in our favour.
Recently, when Swamishri came to hear of a petition to be presented by the protestors of the Dam project to Prime Minister Vajpayee during his visit to America, he appealed to thousands of resident Gujaratis in America to sign a petition supporting the Narmada cause. In a matter of hours, 11,000 signatures were gathered. Eventually 52,000 signatures were e-mailed including 28,452 handwritten hard copies, to the Prime Minister. The impact of this response was substantial and noteworthy.
Through the patient, inexhaustible efforts of the Government of Gujarat, millions of people and the prayers, blessings and efforts of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Supreme Court of India has sanctioned the continuation and completion of the project. Swamishri offered his prayers to the Lord for the completion of the Narmada Dam Project at the earliest and for the waters to flow on the parched lands of Gujarat. He has also prayed for the early availability of electricity and water to the people of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.